USDA offers $50 million for organic producers

By Sara Wyant

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

Washington, Dec. 21 - USDA will once again provide $50 million to help organic producers and those transitioning to organic production implement resource conservation practices on their agricultural operations, even though less than half of the available money was obligated last year.


“Increasing consumer demand for organically grown foods is providing new opportunities for small and mid-size farmers to prosper and stay competitive in today's economy,” said Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan. “The 2008 Farm Bill calls for this assistance, and we want to help these farmers protect the natural resources on their land and create conditions that help foster organic production.”  

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Fiscal year (FY) 2011 marks the third year of USDA's Organic Initiative, and up to $50 million is available again through the Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP) this year for producers to plan and implement conservation practices that address natural resource concerns in ways that are consistent with organic production.


In fiscal 2010, only $23.9 million out of the $50 million was obligated to organic transition and continued assistance to existing organic operation---despite an extensive outreach effort, say NRCS sources.


“We've really worked hard to participate in trade shows with organic producers and get the word out in every way possible,” says an NRCS spokesperson in Illinois. But despite his agency's efforts, he says fewer than 10 people actually applied in Illinois last year.


Organic producers may use the funding to plant cover crops, establish integrated pest management plans, or implement nutrient management systems consistent with organic certification standards.  Eligible producers include those certified through USDA's National Organic Program, those transitioning to certified organic production, and those who meet organic standards but are exempt from certification because gross annual organic sales are less than $5,000. 

Under Organic Initiative contracts, producers are paid 75% of the cost for the organic conservation measures they implement. Beginning, limited resource, and socially disadvantaged producers are paid 90%. The program provides up to $20,000 per year per person or legal entity, with a maximum total of $80,000 over six years. 

Producers interested in applying for Organic Initiative funding must submit applications through their local NRCS Service Center, which can be located through the Web site at  Applications are accepted on a continuous basis, with the cutoff date set for March 4, 2011. 

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